Saturday, August 09, 2008

Monitor additions to Netflix Watch-Now Shows with New RSS Feeds

Netflix RSS
It might turn out to be a source of frustration given how few, newer movies are released by Netflix to their streaming, Watch-Now service, but Netflix is now providing several new RSS that let you track new additions to their Watch-Now service as well as popular titles you can stream.
Netflix now has the following new RSS Feeds:
New Watch-Now Titles
Top all time choices to watch now
Last week's top choices to watch now
Last 3 month's top choices to watch now

I've been using the service using SageTV's excellent plugin which monitors new titles without the RSS feed and most of my Watch-Now viewing has been with television shows such as the Office. 


To give you an idea of the typical watch-now movie (not tv shows) on the service check out the latest additions - I'm not saying any of these are bad movies since I've not seen a single one of them, but they certainly don't seem to be new or well known:

Check out the list below and you'll find that like me, most people using the service are catching up on television shows that are on Watch-Now.  Here's the top all-time watch-now titles:
I found it funny that on the most watch watch-now titles from the past 3 months, Kama-Sutra: The Secrets to the Art of Love made the list.  I guess without newer movies in the list, folks will migrate towards the how-to videos...

Read more about the Netflix RSS Feeds

Friday, August 08, 2008

Microsoft Sends a “We Don’t Care” Message to Vista Media Center Enthusiasts

It’s been covered here a lot lately, but today Microsoft made the “Fiji” Windows Media Center TV Pack official, almost a month before originally planned (September 3rd at CEDIA was the originally planned date).  It should be noted that I think it is a good thing that Microsoft finally announced this since most of the facts in the press release have been known and talked about for several weeks now.  What's bad about the announcement is that it has confimed many peoples fears about Fiji and the future of Vista Media Center in general.

They made this announcement with a forum post on the GreenButton forums (now owned by Microsoft) today.  In that message news release, Ben Reed from Microsoft says this on GreenButton:

On July 16th, 2008, Microsoft released an update to the version of Windows Media Center included with Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate to our OEM partners - this update is referred to as the “Windows® Media Center TV Pack”. In order to ensure that users get the best experience possible, this update will only be available from OEMs, as they are best positioned to provide the testing and hardware configurations for a great customer experience. This is due to the fact that in some geographies there are specific technical and hardware requirements for the Windows Media Center TV Pack that are best handled by the OEMs. We are working closely with our OEM partners as they finalize their decisions on Windows Media Center TV Pack products. 

The Windows Media Center TV Pack is primarily targeted at adding support for additional international broadcast standards including:

o   Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting – Terrestrial (ISDB-T) Digital television standard for Japan

o   Digital Video Broadcasting – Satellite (DVB-S) free-to-air satellite standards  in  Europe

o   Digital Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial (DVB-T) digital television with  improved user experience in Europe

o   ClearQAM (Unencrypted Digital Cable)in the United States

o   Interactive television with integrated Broadcast Markup Language (BML) in Japan and Multimedia and Hypermedia information coding Expert Group (MHEG) (MHEG5) in Europe

This version does not include native support for subscription-based satellite tuners or the H.264 video standard. We test many features in beta releases, and optimize our feature set in the final code for the best user experience.

We do want the Windows Media Center community to know that Microsoft will continue to improve upon the Windows Media Center experience for our customers worldwide, by adding content partnerships and enhanced features.  We will share these developments as they become available.

Ben Reed

Product Marketing | Windows Media Center
I really can’t believe this is the direction Microsoft is taking with Vista Media Center.  Why?  Because it will alienate many of its most loyal Vista Media Center users in several ways.

  • The update is OEM only and not available to current users without purchasing a new HTPC.  You can get it through the unofficial channels, but there is no support and the update is not meant to be installed by the end user – be warned that you may be sorry you updated to it…

  • Old DVR-MS recordings made by a CableCard tuner don’t work once upgraded

  • Not all plugins are compatible – DVRMSToolBox, WebGuide, LifeExtender to name a few.

  • The new WTV files aren’t compatible with many (possibly any) other players.

  • The update does not include H.264 format support and therefore won’t work with the DirectTV tuner or Hauppauge HD-PVR that many were expecting with fiji.

  • It is very likely that commercial skipping has been broken with the new TV Pack's SDK.  Add to that the difficulty of a new WTV format and it will be very difficult to get commercial skipping back on VMC after the TV Pack.  It has even been speculated that Microsoft switched formats to intentionally break the user-developed commercial skipping applications that are out there for VMC and MCE.  Note:  Babgvant, the maker of DVRMS has a possible solution for commercial detection that you might want to try if you have the TV Pack installed.

I think Microsoft is holding out any new features beyond this TV Pack, OEM-Only release until Windows 7.  So they’re really just throwing sand in the faces of their own loyal fans and saying – just wait until Windows 7 and we’ll give you more then.  Or go buy a new HTPC to replace your new HTPC you just got with CableCards – sorry, but that just wouldn’t fly with me.  I think Microsoft has really done permanent damage to Vista Media Center and HTPC’s in general with this mess.  I really hope they reconsider and come to their senses, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m not the only one that thinks the way this has been handled has been a mistake on Microsoft’s part.  Read more on this at these highly respected websites for more on the Fiji/TV Pack Mess – and be sure and read the comments there as well to get an idea of how the VMC users feel about things:

Chris Lanier’s Blog


Ian Dixon’s Blog

GreenButton Forum Thread on TV Pack Thread1 Thread2 

Official Announcement by Microsoft at GreenButton

For a look at the Fiji situation from a different (albeit Microsoft) point of view, read Ed Bott's post

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Open Mic - Give Me Your Requests, Ideas, Questions, Comment Recommendations


Hopefully the post title expresses my wishes here, but just in case I’ll explain. GeekTonic (formerly has been going through a transition over the past years as it’s gone from a place to share my tech experiences and knowledge to a little more formal Media/Technology Blog. Lately I’ve focused a lot on Home Theater PC’s as that is one of my passions, but I wanted to get input from the readers to see what you want to see here. Take this opportunity to tell me what you think of GeekTonic, what you like and don’t like (don’t worry I’m not easily offended) what you want to see here etc.


My future plans are to continue writing about HTPC software & hardware including SageTV, Vista Media Center, BeyondTV, Media Portal, GBPVR, Meedios and Media Portal among others. In addition though I’ll continue to review and talk about gadgets related to media (and other gadgets as well), more in-depth talk, how-to’s about web applications, computers and hardware and lastly talk about the media (TV, Music, Movies etc) as well. That’s what I like and what I know so that’s what I typically write about.


One other possibility is for guest writers. If you have something you’d like to blog about, but don’t want to spend the time setting up your own, send me a note and lets see if theres something we can work out. The pay is bad (aka no pay) as this blogging thing isn’t for the money, but it’s a great way to share what you know with a larger audience.

I wanted to get your input. Want to see something in particular or even want me to focus on a different topic? I want to hear from you so post your comments below. Your comment can be a registered one or completely anonymous so don’t be shy.

Netflix Discs with ARccOS copy protection

I was running through my Netflix Queue this morning and noticed an interesting warning on one of the movies.  If you add Casino Royale, Crossover, Open Season and other DVD’s (total of 13) to your Queue, you’ll get the following Notice Message from Netflix:


This is because Netflix still has a few Movie titles with the asinine ARccOS copy protection.  ARccOS is a copy protection scheme developed by Sony that intentionally puts corrupted sectors on the DVD to prevent copying.  It also tends to make the DVD unwatchable on several different DVD players on the market.  It should be noted that Netflix has been replacing their inventory of these Discs and now only have these 13 titles.  Here’s the FAQ on the Netflix site about the ARccOS discs.

This is just another reason I hate these copy protections that manufacturers are putting on media.  It tends to penalize the legitimate customers and treat them like criminals when those who are ripping and selling the content on the streets will still find a way to do it.  In the end it costs you and me money and limits the functionality at the same time.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Preview of Microsoft Media Center TV Pack (aka Fiji) by Engadget HD


The gang at EngadgetHD got their hands on a RTM (release to manufacturer) build of the Vista Media Center TV Pack (aka Fiji) and they are showing off Fiji's new features (same ones I confirmed a few weeks ago) including:

  • 16x9 thumbnails

  • Native QAM support

  • OTA Channel flexible numbering

  • New DRM’d video format called WTV will replace DVR-MS

  • HD recording preferences (set channel preference by tuner)

  • Favorite Channels Listing in EPG (create multiple lists of favorites and choose which favorites to include in the guide

  • Non-US tuner support- (this includes DVB-S (not S2) for several countries including Australia)

  • Teletext support (non-US)

You’ll note that H.264 support and therefore DirecTV tuner and Hauppauge HD-PVR support are NOT included – again this was confirmed here a few weeks ago

Ben Drawbaugh has an excellent rundown of the features, installation and lots of screen-prints.  The bad news on Fiji is really upsetting some of the long-time Media Center customers though.  Here’s a few of the negatives:

  • Installation of this “pack” is difficult and “not designed for end users” according to Drawbaugh

  • Old DVR-MS recordings don’t work once upgraded - UPDATE:  As noted in the comments below, only DVR-MS recordings made with a cablecard tuner have this restriction - all other DVR-MS recordings should work fine.

  • Not all plugins will be compatible

  • The new WTV files aren’t compatible with many (possibly any) other players

  • The update is only available to OEM’s

  • It has been confirmed by a few OEMs on the GreenButton forums that the update is only available for new purchases!

I should note that if you look in the right place, there are torrent copies of this update available – just know you’re PC could be messed up as it wasn’t intended to be installed by the “casual user”.

Its becoming more obvious that Microsoft is giving this release to OEM’s only to appease their computer manufacturers and plan to hold off most coveted features for Windows 7.  I understand wanting to make sure that the next version of Windows has as many “gotta have” features as possible, but seriously Vista isn’t that old and pissing off so many of your loyal VMC fans like this just doesn’t make sense – even from a business perspective.

The official details of Windows Media Center TV Pack will be announced by Microsoft at CEDIA which is September 3-7 in Denver, CO.  Beta testers of Fiji are restricted from talking about it until September 3rd as well.  Just keep in mind that CEDIA’s focus is to OEM’s and not end users so any positive news on this front will have to come by way of a clarification to VMC users.  Surely Microsoft will at least throw it’s loyal users a bone and provide some sort of upgrade path without having to wait for Windows7.  If not, I just can’t see putting much faith in Microsoft’s Media Center Platform.  The other thing that is upsetting many folks is that so many of the new features that were expected to be in Fiji just aren’t there in this release.

If you want to get an idea of the confusion and outright disappointment Microsoft has created with this Fiji mess, give Mary Jo Foley’s article from Yesterday a read.

Read the entire EndgadgetHD Hands-on report on the VMC Fiji

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Deal of the Day - Hauppauge HD-PVR for $220

Hauppauge HD-PVR 1212Are you in the market for one of those awesome Hauppauge HD-PVR 1212 devices (read my first impressions on the device here) that let you record any content (HD, SD, digital etc) from your cablebox, satellite box or any other device with a component cable output?  If so your best deals are as follows:

Standalone HD-PVR
$219.99 plus shipping at
$249.95 plus shipping at SageTV Store

Bundle with SageTV
$299.95 plus shipping at SageTV Store

Guide to Switching from Vista Media Center to SageTV Media Center

vmctosagetvMicrosoft’s Vista Media Center and SageTV are two competing Home Theater PC software programs that allow you to turn your home computer into a high octane, TIVO-like device plus integrated Movies, Music and Photos on that same device.  With the recent "unhappiness" with Microsofts handling of the Fiji release as well as a desire to have the ability to record all HD channels without DRM restrictions, softsled support among other features desired, many VMC users are taking a look at SageTV.  To help you out with that process a nice guide has been written to walk you through the steps.

Switching to SageTV involves a few basic steps which have been outlined by GhostLobster – a long-time, VistaMedia Center user who has made a nice guide for switching from Vista Media Center to SageTV.
I’ll summarize below and provide a link to the latest version of GhostLobster’s Guide to Migration from VMC to SageTV:
  1. Install the latest version of Java
  2. Disable UAC (optional, but makes life easier)
  3. Download & Install SageTV
  4. Disable Vista Media Services
  5. Set up your Remote Control (If you’re using VMC or MCE remote control you can download the SageTray app created by Babgvant.  This transforms that “green-button” on those Media Center Remotes so they will open SageTV instead of VMC or MCE.   Note that there are multitudes of other remote control options available to you in addition to the VMC/MCE remote controls.
  6. Launch SageTV
  7. Download and Install the SageTV Web Interface
  8. Import your VMC recordings into SageTV’s recorded shows using Babgvant’s MigrateMCtoSage app.
  9. Install the SageMC replacement UI
  10. Add the Microsoft MPEG encoders
  11. Install Commercial Skip
  12. Set up your Movie Library (archived movies from video files and/or ripped DVD’s) in SageMC
  13. Add your Client PC (think Softsled), your SD Extender (Media MVP) and/or HD Extender’s.  All have almost all the same functionality that you get with the SageTV server PC.
For all the details and some pretty good humor as well, check out GhostLobster’s excellent guide